The Federal Government has said it is ready to re-negotiate the conditions of service for staff of public universities across Nigeria.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige disclosed this during a meeting in Abuja, with members of the 2009 Federal Government/university based unions agreement re-negotiation committee led by the Chairman, Prof. Nimi Briggs.
Ngige said as a conciliator, he has always pushed for the full implementation of agreements contained in the 2020 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ASUU and the Federal Government, including the implementation of the renegotiated positions.
Speaking against the backdrop of the current strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senator Ngige recalled that the re-negotiation began in 2017, when a committee headed by Wale Babalakin SAN was inaugurated.
He revealed that the assignment of the committee whose Chairman was later replaced by Professor Manzali, was affected by COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“I had since started pushing to see that things were done.
“What the Manzali committee came up with was a proposal, but both Manzali and ASUU did not sign.
“At our last meeting in February before ASUU proceeded on strike, we said everyone should go back to his principal.
“I asked Education several times what they had done with the document.
“We later got information on areas of disagreement.
“I told ASUU to put up a committee, but they said Manzali committee had expired.
“As a conciliator, I have to make use of the labour instruments at my disposal. The bosses in the Federal Ministry of Education, do not feel the strike.
“There are things that are above me. I am not Minister of Education and cannot go to the Education Minister and dictate to him how to run his place.
“But I told ASUU that they should be bombarding them at the Federal Ministry of Education for this to be moved forward. There are many ways to do so.
“But I am tired of every time there is a disagreement, it is strike.
“And the bosses in the Federal Ministry of Education don’t feel the strike. It is the children and some of us parents that have our children in public schools.
“I have my children in public universities. Three have graduated in medicine from Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital in Awka in 2020, LUTH College of Medicine in October 2021 and UniAbuja in December 2021. Others are still there including those on my foundation’s scholarship and sponsorship.
“So, I am a parent. I feel it. I didn’t send my children to Igbinedion or Afe Babalola or Cambridge,” he said.
Senator Ngigie added that in the December 2020 agreement, he gave the government side a timeline to return to the university unions who are their employees to sort everything out.
He said; “When we went to universities here, I knew the course content and as a medical doctor, the doctors we trained here were better than the ones trained abroad.
“That was one of the counsels I gave to my children and I refused them studying abroad.
“If anybody will be interested in welfare of workers in Nigerian universities, I am number one. I told my colleagues that what university professors showed us here as their salaries is unacceptable.”
The Labour and Employment Minister said he had commissioned studies on productivity with regards to emoluments and based on the results he got, it was clear that payments done ten years ago when the exchange rate was better, amounted to nothing now with 100 percent depreciation of Naira compared to the Dollar.
“Why won’t I support if ASUU and their unions now want a renegotiation of their conditions of service, which is the main thing in the proposal by previous Manzali?” he queried.
In his remarks, Prof. Briggs, who is also the Pro Chancellor of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndifu Alike, Ebonyi State, said the renegotiation committee was consulting all stakeholders with a view to finding a lasting solution to issues in dispute.